State denies Lake Superior school district's four-day school week request

The Minnesota Department of Education has rejected the Lake Superior school district's application to switch to a four-day school week beginning in the fall.

Two Harbors High School
Students fill a staircase while switching classes at Two Harbors High School. (File / News Tribune)

The Minnesota Department of Education has rejected the Lake Superior school district's application to switch to a four-day school week beginning in the fall.

According to a letter from Commissioner Alice Seagren, the department cites seven areas of "concern" in the district's application where

information was missing. According to the letter, the district will have to submit a "strengthened application" for review and, if approved, the four-day week could be implemented in a "future year."

But Bill Walsh, communications director for the Department of Education, said some "give and take" remains in the process, and the district still has a shot at receiving approval for this fall.

Superintendent Phil Minkkinen clearly was stunned by the news Monday. He was busy with personnel issues and hadn't had much time to pore over the exact holes in the application the state outlined.


"Clearly, I didn't provide something they were expecting," he said.

He sent a response to the state, and Walsh said his department will review it today. "We'll be fast in our response," Walsh said.

Without going to a four-day week, the district would move quickly toward statutory operating debt, Minkkinen said. The district expects the four-day week to save as much as $250,000 a year, mostly in transportation costs.

The preliminary 2010-11 district budget shows revenues at about $20.2 million while expenditures are projected at $20.6 million, creating a $400,000 deficit. The district has trimmed nearly $1.5 million from the current budget, most of it because it plans to spend no money on school construction improvements.

Walsh said approving a four-day week is "not an easy yes." He said the state statute regarding the change is specific and the Department of Education follows it closely. A denial letter is not a rarity, he said.

The Lake Superior letter was one of two denials sent out late last week

The denial letter states that the district did not include a "specific estimated dollar savings" in the application and instead made broad statements "about approximate percentage savings in all areas."

It was one of the points Minkkinen strongly disagreed with and said he will negotiate with state officials today.


Mark Broin, a district resident who urged voters in an advertising and online campaign to reject any levy increases via the referendum vote last month, protested the School Board's decision to go forward with the four-day week proposal after the failed levy vote. Broin said there hadn't been sufficient public discussion on the issue and little proof of the cost savings or impact on students and residents.

Broin sent a letter to the School Board and state last week detailing his objections. He is running for Lake County commissioner and will be involved in the primary for incumbent Paul Bergman's District 4 seat.

Broin told the state that the district did an inadequate job of informing the public about the four-day week proposal, which requires specific notices for public discussions and minutes.

The Minnesota Department of Education letter said there is a question about whether the district actually held meetings specific to the four-day week or tacked them onto discussions about increasing the operating levy. "No photocopies of meeting notices, minutes, transcripts or copies of news coverage of these meetings were included with the application."

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